On the NFL
10:41 PM CDT, March 12, 2012
Open season on NFL free agents starts at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Those who stand around with hands in their pockets will miss out on the first wave. It wouldn't be surprising to see a few free agents sign before Wednesday morning, and a dozen or so could be snagged by the end of the week.
These are the free agents in highest demand. This list does not include restricted free agents or players who are tagged. Players who are believed to be of interest to the Bears are in bold.
1. Mario Williams, Texans, DE. He is by far the best available free agent when you consider age (27), potential, talent (former first pick in the draft) and value of his position. Free agents of his ilk rarely are available.
2. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB. Arguably the best quarterback in history would be ranked first if he were younger, but at 35, Manning probably doesn't have more than two or three years of high-level football in him.
3. Vincent Jackson, Chargers, WR. He is a true No. 1 receiver, and true No. 1s rarely are allowed to escape via free agency. At 6-foot-5, 230, he is a matchup nightmare who has averaged 17.5 yards per catch over his career. He is expected to be highly pursued by a handful of teams. Jackson is 29, and his best football may be behind him.
4. Carl Nicks, Saints, G. He might be the best guard in football, but some teams are worried big money might go to his head — and his belly.
5. Cortland Finnegan, Titans, CB. This tough, competitive cornerback is up for any challenge. He will bring a dose of fiery attitude to his new team.
6. Red Bryant, Seahawks, DE. This Tim Ruskell draft pick found himself when he started playing for Pete Carroll. He is a much better fit in a 3-4 front.
7. Brandon Carr, Chiefs, CB. He is only 25 and has a history of making plays on the ball and covering pretty well. Carr has some versatility to play in a man or zone scheme.
8. Marques Colston, Saints, WR. If you could count on him playing the way he has over his first six seasons (more than 1,000 yards receiving five times), Colston would be ranked higher than Jackson. At 6-4, 225, he has exceptional hands and body control. He is physical and tough. And he's not a diva. But he will be 29 in June and reportedly has had microfracture surgery on both knees.
9. Stephen Tulloch, Lions, MLB. The Lions can't run their defensive scheme without him or a reasonable facsimile. Tulloch is an underrated old-school, four-down linebacker who is reliable, tough and consistent.
10. Pierre Garcon, Colts, WR. Is Garcon a No. 2 or a No. 1? His hands and inconsistency with routes might suggest he is a 2. But his speed, physicality and youth (he's 25) suggest he could be more. He had 947 yards for the Colts last season despite the team's QB problems.
11. Alex Smith, 49ers, QB. He is expected to re-sign with the 49ers, whom he helped get to the NFC championship game after six mostly disappointing seasons.
12. Curtis Lofton, Falcons, MLB. This 25-year old thumper is a fine run defender, solid leader and better pass defender than he's given credit for.
13. Ben Grubbs, Ravens, G. The Ravens would like to re-sign this tough, physical interior blocker.
14. Mike Tolbert, Chargers, RB. He is a 26-year-old, 243-pound back who has averaged 4.1 yards per carry over his career and catches the ball as well as Matt Forte.
15. Eric Winston, Texans, OT. This durable, solid, blue-collar right tackle was cut Monday, but he could step in and start for a lot of teams.
16. Matt Flynn, Packers, QB. He has only two NFL starts and is not an elite talent, but there is a lot to like about Aaron Rodgers light.
17. Levi Brown, Cardinals, OT. This expected cap casualty is a rarity this year: an experienced free-agent left tackle. The former fifth pick in the draft came on strong in 2011 after being labeled a disappointment for his first four seasons.
18. Jason Jones, Titans, DT. A 25-year-old interior pass rusher is hard to find. The arrow should be pointing up for Jones, who has been used a little out of position at end recently.
19. John Carlson, Seahawks, TE. He is coming off a shoulder injury that kept him from playing in 2011, but this 27-year-old from Notre Dame was a very productive player his first two years in the league.
20. Chris Myers, Texans, C. Some think he is the best center in football, but he's 30 and undersized at 289 pounds. He won't fit every scheme.
21. Scott Wells, Packers, C. This 31-year-old Pro Bowler is a fine player. His value may be greater to the Packers than to any other team.
22. Carlos Rogers, 49ers, CB. He is coming off one of his best seasons, but he is 30 and was inconsistent in the playoffs.
23. John Abraham, Falcons, DE. He is closing in on his 34th birthday, but only three players have more sacks than Abraham over the last five seasons. He's the Peyton Manning of free-agent pass rushers.
24. Kyle Orton, Chiefs, QB. He is a starting-caliber quarterback who manages a game well and can make all the throws.
25. Jeremy Mincey, Jaguars, DE. This 28-year-old hustling pass rusher finally found his groove last year and likely will be joining his fourth NFL team.
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